Welcome to Last Word on Football’s ‘Returning Players’ series. In this edition, we take a look at Dirk Kuyt.
Kuyt turned out for Feyenoord for three years from 2003 and made a return to the club in 2015.
Returning Players – Dirk Kuyt
First Spell at Feyenoord
Before signing for Feyenoord Rotterdam, Dirk Kuyt had already plied his trade at Utrecht, winning the KNVB Cup in 2003. This, however, was Kuyt’s first step up the football ladder, and he certainly made it count.
At Feyenoord, Kuyt was replacing fan-favourite and goal machine Pierre van Hooijdonk, but the forward made sure that the fans did not miss their former target man too much. He finished as Feyenoord’s top scorer in each of his three seasons at the club, securing the Eredivise top scorer prize in the 2004/05 season with 29 goals.
Though he did not secure a trophy during this first spell with Feyenoord, it is safe to say that Kuyt’s career trajectory was only going in one direction, having notched 83 goals in 122 outings. In 2006, he was on his way up, and on his way to England.
Teams That Dirk Kuyt Played for in Between
Dirk Kuyt left Holland behind for the chance of a lifetime at Liverpool. He was signed for an undisclosed fee, rumoured to be around £9 million.
Kuyt settled in well to life at Anfield, scoring 12 goals in the league in his first campaign. He also had the conflicting moment of scoring a goal in a Champions League final, but it only being an injury-time consolation as AC Milan beat Liverpool 2-1 in Athens.
It was difficult to figure out Kuyt’s best position during his early Liverpool days. He played as a striker often but was not prolific enough to be Liverpool’s number nine. Following the signing of Fernando Torres, it became clear that Rafa Benitez saw the Dutchman as more of a wide player than a striker.
Not all Liverpool fans shared the sort of faith in Dirk Kuyt as Benitez had. Frequently, he was admired for his hard work rather than his quality. Ultimately, though, Kuyt managed to prove that he was more than just an engine. Through match-winning performances, he turned the ‘hard worker’ tag into ‘big match player’. This was a label owed to his penchant for scoring late winners to secure his side important points. The Merseyside Derby in particular was the game Kuyt frequently showed his quality in, scoring more goals against Everton than any other side during his time in England.
Another one of these performances came against Manchester United in 2011 at Anfield. In this game, Kuyt helped himself to a hat trick from a combined distance of six metres. Nobody has scored three goals in a game from a shorter distance in Premier League history. He also became the first player since Peter Beardsley in 1990 to score a hat trick against United.
Fortunately, after six seasons at the club, Kuyt finally had something to show for his time at Liverpool. In 2012, Liverpool met Cardiff City in the League Cup final at Wembley. With Liverpool surprisingly taken into extra time by the Championship club, Kuyt came off the bench to score and put Liverpool 2-1 up in extra time. Cardiff managed to take the game to penalties, but the shoot-out was eventually won by Liverpool, with Kuyt converting his spot-kick.
It is difficult to imagine a more deserving member of that squad to lift the trophy. It was the club where Kuyt played his most career games, and another important goal in a big game was this time rewarded with silverware.
Four months after his Wembley heroics, Kuyt moved to Fenerbahce in search of a new challenge. The Turkish outfit were a side that came with its own pressures. Lucky for him, Kuyt was used to playing with expectations.
A year removed from the League Cup win at Wembley, Kuyt was able to add another trophy to his cabinet as Fenerbahce won the Turkish Cup for only the second time since 1983. He managed to add further glory in the following season as the side won the Süper Lig for the 19th time in their history, tying with their great rivals Galatasaray. Kuyt bagged ten goals on his way to the first league title of his career, and a trophy Fenerbahce are yet to win since.
A third medal – the Turkish Super Cup – followed the league title, and in 2015 Kuyt got the chance to return to Feyenoord. Having won trophies everywhere he played except for the Dutch side, it appeared as though Kuyt had some unfinished business.
Return to Feyenoord
Most professional footballers dream of the perfect send-off before hanging up their boots for good. Not many of them are able to do so though. Of the few that do, you would be hard-pressed to find one that rounded off their career quite like Kuyt did. His first year back at the club, he helped guide the side to the KNVB Cup – their first in eight years.
That would have been a great note to end a fabulous career on. However, perhaps the crowning moment of Dirk Kuyt’s entire career came a year later. On the final day of the 2016/17 season, Kuyt’s Feyenoord were one point ahead of Ajax. A home game against Heracles awaited them, knowing that Ajax would be waiting if they were to slip up.
Fortunately for them, Kuyt recognised the importance of the game. He put Feyenoord 2-0 up inside 20 minutes, bagging goal number 100 and 101 for Feyenoord in the process. Eventually, he slotted home a penalty in minute 81 to complete his hat trick and win the title. It was Feyenoord’s first league title in 18 years and their only league triumph of the 21st century.
Few players get to hang up their boots in that sort of fashion, but then again, not many players had the drive to succeed quite like Dirk Kuyt did.